The 'colorblind' crusaders close their eyes to history

June 19, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

Sitting in the nation's capital are five highly educated Supreme Court justices who, apparently, haven't so much as cracked a book on American history.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to dismantle four majority-black congressional districts, thereby weakening black political power at the national level. The five justices who voted for the decision -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice William Rehnquist -- did much more than show their ignorance about the imperative of black political empowerment. They have, in essence, put me on the same side as the A-C-To-Hell-With-You, an intolerable situation, believe me.

Adding insult to injury was Abigail Thernstrom of the conservative Institute for Justice, who called the decision "a victory for those who favor a colorblind society," according to Sun reporter Lyle Denniston.

Conservatives will forgive me if I question their commitment to a colorblind society. It is they who, after all, accepted the Dixiecrats into their ranks in the early 1960s. The Dixiecrats -- the worst of the race-baiting Southern Democrats -- bolted from the party in opposition to Lyndon Baines Johnson's civil rights policies. Those policies were designed precisely to bring about the colorblind society conservatives now claim is their ultimate goal.

But it is conservatives who have bandied about the term "rational discrimination," repeating the phrase until it has become a veritable mantra. Just how they plan to build a colorblind society based on discrimination -- rational or otherwise -- they have yet to make clear. So their motives about bringing about a colorblind society are suspect. If, by eviscerating black political power by killing off majority black congressional districts they seek to weaken the power of liberal Democrats, conservatives should simply say so. Weakening the power of liberal Democrats is not necessarily a bad thing, and it can be achieved without sacrificing black political power.

So let's have some truth in advertising and drop the "colorblind" myth. Because the history I've read -- the history those five cognitively challenged justices on the Supreme Court refuse to acknowledge -- tells me that in the Reconstruction Era immediately after the Civil War, black legislator after black legislator pleaded for a colorblind society. They implored, they begged, they all but got down on their knees.

The answer of the white majority was swift, merciless and, for blacks, disastrous. We pleaded for acceptance and colorblindness and got our asses kicked. So spare us the colorblindness nonsense, please. We'll opt for political empowerment, if you don't mind, the better to keep that metaphorical foot off our metaphorical derrieres. If African-Americans insist on majority-black congressional districts, the unmitigated and painful truth is that we have damned good historical reasons for doing so. Philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

White Americans repeat Santayana's quote all the time. Let a black person bring up the sordid history of what happened during slavery and its aftermath -- the neo-slavery of Jim Crowism and the brutality used to keep African-Americans second-class citizens -- and he'll be accused of racism. Santayana's quote must be a white thang. The black American past doesn't count, at least not for those five characters on the Supreme Court.

The past for African-Americans includes lynchings, shootings, beatings, murders and burnings to reduce and keep us in political powerlessness. Ironic, isn't it, that the high court handed down its ruling during the same week that the story of the burning of churches -- most of them predominantly black -- across the South gained nationwide attention? You have to wonder what hole in the ground Scalia, Thomas, O'Connor, Kennedy and Rehnquist had their heads crammed in when the news hit the papers and airwaves.

The culprits in most of the church burnings have not been caught, but it would be perfectly logical to assume the guilty parties haven't bought into the idea of a colorblind society. The truth is a colorblind America is a long way off. It is a truth the ninny wing of the Supreme Court refuses to acknowledge.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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